September 05, 2018
Utah Department of Transportation or Utah DOT is setting new benchmarks in improving the safety of the roadways, by applying high-end technologies such as Big Data.
The majority of what we have heard on Big Data is in regards to how this technology can help businesses improve the solutions for their customers. However the use of the tech in government and administration sectors have been garnering more attention. Recently, in a national seminar series, IBM presented a method through which federal and state government could transform public markets, and huge economic systems like water, spectrum, and electricity management by employing Blockchain.
In Utah, data science has always been a part of engineering for the roadways. As Robert Miles, the traffic and safety directors at the Utah Department of Transportation, has said, “We’ve used data for a long time. We’ve captured the information on the crash records, even back when we were doing it on paper copies, and put them into different databases. But the change lately has been the ability to marry those databases, and the popularity of the data science field, the emergence of the data science field, as a tangible thing for a practicing engineer. I would say that’s really taken off in the last six to eight years.”
He clarified that earlier, all of this data was simply in paper form, so the officials had to rely on their intuitions in making decisions with more predictable outcomes. Although with technologies to support and analyse Big Data and tools like Numetric, that gives safety authorities and engineers a deeper insight on traffic conditions and highway infrastructures, they are able to create a data-based culture in this department and this helps make more effective and efficient decisions. As Miles describes, “these new projects allow us to move out of that anecdotal into more of a fact-based decision-making process because you’ve got something to measure things on the equal ground.”
One of the many successful cases where the department has implemented data science to witness immediate improvements is in the case of cable-barrier median at Interstate 80 in Northern Utah. It was found years ago that even after having quite wide medians at the interstate, the types of numerous crashes were showing inadequacy in that part of the infrastructure only. Later, based on this insight, a cable barrier was erected in the median that added another layer of safety against out-of-control automobiles, in the heavy-traffic two-way highway.
Now the department acknowledges that the new technologies can also help the officials get a more holistic view of the roadways structure, with past records of crashes. So instead of just relying on the tools that merely provide detailed information on the real-time or recently collected data, they are also coordinating with the USRAP or the United States Road Assessment Program. With this, they can arrange more traffic-related siloed data into a more accessible format through which more people can see and collaborate on it.
Doing so will help the department to deliver the required information in the hands of designers as soon as possible. As Miles put it, “we want to get safety data as close to the hands of the designers as possible, as close to the problem-solvers as possible. We want lots of opinions, and we want those experts to provide depth and meaning.”